All stories relating to poetry
Any introduction to George Elliott Clarke, Toronto’s fourth poet laureate, comes with a long list of achievements, including the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award, a Governor General’s Literary Award, and his appointments to the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada.
Born in 1960 in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Clarke dubs himself an “Africadian,” drawn from his African-American and Mi’qmak heritage. Currently the inaugural E.J. Pratt professor of Canadian literature at the University of Toronto, the poet, playwright, and literary critic is known for his erudite poems laden with musicality.
Q&Q spoke with Clarke, who will serve as poet laureate through 2015, before he left for the Edmonton Poetry Festival, which this week is hosting poet laureates from across Canada.
Have you decided on your poet laureate legacy project? I’ve known what it was since the first weekend after my appointment. I’m not going to describe it in detail, because I need folks at City Hall to be very happy with me. I know they would like to have a chance to think about it first. But it involves urban infrastructure, and I have my heart set on a project that would bring poetry into the streets.
Do you have any backup ideas? If city council says no, I want to move on to my secondary projects. I would follow the example of Dennis Lee [Toronto's inaugural poet laureate] in having a statue erected of Nathaniel Dett, the first black Canadian poet to publish a book. He was a fountainhead, whether he knew it or not, for all the African-Canadian poets that have come since. Or I would dust off [former poet laureate] Dionne Brand’s great idea, which was to have a line of poetry inscribed in any part of a library being renovated.
Will you be making any changes to the position of poet laureate? I feel the position needs to be institutionalized. That’s a terribly bureaucratic term but would help lend even more legitimacy to the office. I’ve set up a poet’s corner at City Hall, which was inaugurated April 3. It’s a simple concept of a portrait and poem of each of the poets laureate to date. They’re there to remind people that the position exists, and it’s a reminder to city hall, so the next time there’s a round of draconian budget cuts, the honorarium the poet laureate receives doesn’t get set to zero. I’m also trying to arrange for the poet laureate to address city council each April for five minutes for National Poetry Month.
What first drew you to poetry? I wanted to be a songwriter at 15. My parents sent me to join the local African Baptist Church choir in Halifax, but the choir director sent me back home the same night, and said, “We’ve got no use for you, you can’t sing!” My parents still wanted me to develop a talent, so they enrolled me in a city music program where I played the trombone. But I didn’t love the instrument, so I stopped. I couldn’t read music anymore, I couldn’t sing, so what was I going to do if I wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll star? Write songs. I wrote four every day and read about how to be a songwriter, and what kept coming up was that, to be good, you had to be a poet. So I started reading lyrics. I went to school on Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin. By 17, I started writing free-verse poetry and went to university to be a better poet.
How did that morph into a passion for black poetry? Because of Bob Dylan, I started reading African-American blues lyrics. Once I started to read poetry a lot, I gravitated towards African-American poets. The only poetry in English that I could read that spoke to my reality as a racialized minority was African-American, because they talked about police brutality, slavery, segregation, black radicalism, and black arts. It talked about my social realities, and Canadian poetry wasn’t about that.
As a Canadian, how do you incorporate these American traits into your work? Generically, what makes English-Canadian poetry some of the most intellectually challenging poetry in the world is that the first English-language poets in Canada felt they had to compete with the British canonical greats. The American tradition is much more populist, with room for slang and music. I’ve carried both ideals into my poetry as much as I can. I like being difficult, ornate, and elaborate in my language use, and asking people to look things up. On the other hand, I also delight in the ability to write a poem that everybody can understand, one that goes against the tradition of difficulty. I like to think that I can contribute to the possibility of there being an English-Canadian poetry that is not only intelligentsia-oriented, but also oriented toward the everyday person.
You often talk about a gap between print and performance poetry. Why do you think that exists? Canada in general is structured as an elitist society with a hierarchy down from the Queen. Success as a poet in Canada means being read quietly in a university. The performance poets challenge that, and rightly so. Success for them is 300 people paying $15 to see you. I’m not trying to commercialize things, but I do think when you have people willing to pay to hear poets recite poetry that will get them thinking differently, that is a success that print poets, if they don’t want to emulate it, have at least got to be envious of. A smart print poet is going to want to have one foot on the stage and one hand in the page if you want a diverse audience.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
In a year that boasted collections from A.F. Moritz, Don McKay, and Roo Borson, the jury for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize (which covers books published in 2012) has opted to put the spotlight on several lesser-known poets.
The most renowned poet among the Canadian nominees is David W. McFadden, the veteran author of 35 books, who received the nod for What’s the Score? (published by Mansfield Press imprint Stuart Ross Books). McFadden was previously nominated for the prize in 2008 for his selected poems, Why Are You So Sad?
The other Canadian nominees are newcomers James Pollock and Ian Williams. Pollock, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, was nominated for his first full-length collection, Sailing to Babylon (Able Muse Press), which riffs on historical figures such as Henry Hudson, David Thompson, Glenn Gould, and Northrop Frye. (Pollock is also the author of a volume of criticism, You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada, from The Porcupine’s Quill.)
Toronto-based Williams was shortlisted for Personals (Freehand Books), a follow-up to his debut collection You Know Who You Are (Wolsak and Wynn) and the short-story collection Not Anyone’s Anything (Freehand). According to the press material, the collection is a series of “almost-love poems” written in a variety of traditional poetic forms as well as forms of the poet’s own invention.
The jury, composed of poets Suzanne Buffam, Mark Doty, and Wang Ping, also selected four international nominees:
- Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems by Ghassan Zaqtan, translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah (Yale University Press)
- Liquid Nitrogen by Jennifer Maiden (Giramondo Publishing)
- Night of the Republic by Alan Shapiro (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy (Copper Canyon Press)
A Canadian and international winner, each receiving $65,000, will be announced June 13. The seven finalists will read from their works at Toronto’s Koerner Hall on June 12.
The April issue of Q&Q celebrates Poetry Month with reviews of 10 new collections.
Click on the thumbnails to read the reviews.
In the introduction to Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia, Susan Musgrave, the anthology’s editor, shares a personal anecdote. Shortly before his death in 2000, Al Purdy presented Musgrave with a copy of A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now. She calls the gesture “an endearingly clumsy gift.”
“I knew when he gave me that book he wasn’t going to read it,” says Musgrave by phone from her home on Haida Gwaii, where she runs the Copper Beech Guest House. (She was in the midst of making sourdough bread for her guests when I spoke to her.)
Musgrave acknowledges that Purdy, who once edited an anthology of 51 poets that included only two women, was from another generation. “It was sweet, but it was his way of saying you can kind of join the club, but as a poetess,” she says.
If Force Field is any indication, the club has opened up since Purdy’s heyday. Published in April by Salt Spring Island’s Mother Tongue Press, the anthology is the first of its kind since 1979’s two-volume D’Sonoqua: An Anthology of Women Poets of British Columbia, edited by Ingrid Klassen.
Musgrave, who claims she doesn’t often think about gender, credits Mother Tongue publisher Mona Fertig with the concept. She says the idea orginated during a discussion about anthologies, while Fertig was visiting Musgrave at Copper Beech.
Fertig says, “After 34 years I felt it was high time for another anthology of women poets, for a bird’s eye view of the force field in this province.”
An invitational call went out in 2010, resulting in an overwhelming number of submissions. Roughly 150 B.C. poets expressed interest in participating. “On Salt Spring Island alone there’s probably 77 women poets,” says Musgrave, laughing.
As a reader, Musgrave appreciates the breadth and variety of larger anthologies. “I like to look through them, discover somebody, and move on,” she says.
Organized alphabetically, Force Field recognizes established talents (such as Lorna Crozier, Marilyn Bowering, and Anne Cameron), as well as recent award winners (Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Jan Zwicky and Pat Lowther Award recipient Evelyn Lau). During the editing process, a few poets, such as Vancouver’s Rhea Tregebov, volunteered to drop out to make space for younger voices, including Joelene Heathcote and Leah Horlick, students from the University of British Columbia’s MFA program, where Musgrave is an online instructor.
Narrowing down the number of mid-range poets was where the selection process got tricky. “I feel badly because the other 77 would make up a good anthology,” she says. “We should’ve done two parts.”
As editor, Musgrave was also careful to balance poetic schools and styles, ensuring Force Field represents a broad cross-section of contemporary B.C. poetry. “If I just chose poems that were my taste, then it would be my playlist,” she says. “[The book’s] not called Musgrave’s Favourite Poems.”
The League of Canadian Poets announced the shortlists for its three annual awards earlier this week.
In addition to the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award Shortlist for the best first book and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for a book of poetry by a Canadian woman, the league introduced a third award this year. The inaugural Raymond Souster Award, which recognizes the best book of poetry by a league member, was established to honour the eponymous poet, who died last October at the age of 91.
Each award carries a $1,000 prize.
The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award:
- Charms Against Lightning, James Arthur (Copper Canyon Press)
- I see my love more clearly from a distance, Nora Gould (Brick Books)
- The Lease, Mathew Henderson (Coach House Books)
- Sumptuary Laws, Nyla Matuk (Véhicule Press)
- Repeater, Andrew McEwan (BookThug)
- Notebook M, Gillian Savigny (Insomniac Press)
The jury for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award is Kathy Mac, Marguerite Pigeon, and Heather Cadsby.
The Pat Lowther Memorial Award shortlisted books are:
- Soul Mouth, Marilyn Bowering (Exile Editions)
- Monkey Ranch, Julie Bruck (Brick Books)
- The Book of Marvels, Lorna Crozier (Greystone Books)
- Slow Curve Out, Maureen Scott Harris (Pedlar Press)
- A Grain of Rice, Evelyn Lau (Oolichan Books)
- Song and Spectacle, Rachel Rose (Harbour Publishing)
The jury for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award is Kate Braid, Gay Allison, and Marsha Barber.
The Raymond Souster Award:
- Hummingbird, John Wall Barger (Palimpsest Press)
- the Flicker tree: Okanagan Poems, Nancy Holmes (Ronsdale Press)
- Wayworn Wooden Floors, Mark Lavorato (The Porcupine’s Quill)
- Between Dusk and Night, Emily McGiffin (Brick Books)
- The New Measures, A.F. Moritz (House of Anansi Press)
- no ordinary place, Pamela Porter (Ronsdale Press)
The jury for the Raymond Souster Award is David Day, Louise Bernice Halfe, and Barry Dempster.
Calgary poet Claire Lacey is this year’s recipient of the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Her manuscript, Twin Tongues, incorporates English and Tok Pisin, the two most widely used lingua franca in Papua New Guinea, in a text about the ethics of appropriation and language use.
“I’m overjoyed about receiving the RK Award,” Lacey tells Quillblog in an email. “There were many deserving people on [the shortlist].”
The annual award recognizes the best poetry manuscript by an emerging Canadian writer. Lacey receives a trade book contract with Invisible Publishing’s Snare imprint, and a $500.00 advance. Twin Tongues will be published in fall 2013.
Prize judge and Book Thug publisher Jay MillAr says, “Claire Lacey’s Twin Tongues sets up an intriguing concept, executes it, and says ‘deal with it!’ Yet, for all its explorations and insatiable curiosities, it never wavers from what is important to contemporary poetry: language as a social endeavour at the crossroad of writing and reading.”
Past winners of the prize include Natalie Zina Walshots, Geoffery Hlibchuk, Sarah Dowling, Jake Kennedy, and Pearl Pirie.
Original, impassioned, and usually pretty loud, poetry slams offer spoken word artists a chance to present their work and compete in front of a crowd hungry for creativity. And Toronto’s poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke, will be stepping into the arena.
Clarke is lined up as the main attraction at the next Toronto Poetry Slam event on Jan. 26. Slams feature a number of artists competing against each other, whittled down through three rounds by pre-selected participants in the audience. While Clarke won’t be part of the actual competition, he represents an effort to showcase poets with varying styles.
“We haven’t had a ‘literary poet’ featured in a long time. We don’t just want to look insular,” says David Silverberg, artistic director of the Toronto Poetry Slam.
Silverberg adds that one of the goals of the Toronto Poetry Slam – a twice-monthly competition that began seven years ago — is to demonstrate how poetry can relate to everyone’s experiences and is not just “poetry with a capital ‘p’ by dead white guys.”
While poetry slams are nothing new, a recent article in The Telegraph brought to light some controversy surrounding the competitions. Calling slams the new stand-up comedy, the article comments on a “class divide” between written and performed poetry.
For Silverberg, poetry is poetry, regardless of the medium of expression. “Good spoken word is good written poetry. They have the same features and style,” he says. The difference lies in performance poetry being just that: a performance, one that uses body language, movement, beats, and the crowd to enhance the experience.
Clarke’s appearance at the next slam event will provide a blend of the written and the spoken, regardless of its comedic value.
Rumours to the contrary notwithstanding, publishing is alive and well moving into spring. In the January/February issue, Q&Q looks ahead at some of the spring’s biggest books.
Nancy Jo Cullen’s short fiction collection begins with a well-known admonition: “Gas, grass, or ass: no one rides for free.” The quirky, colourful stories in Canary (Biblioasis, $19.95 pa., April) feature characters who are working class, religious, and itinerant, all searching for answers to life’s myriad questions. • Holley Rubinsky* has won the Journey Prize, and her work has appeared in The Penguin Anthology of Stories by Canadian Women. Her new collection, South of Elfrida (Brindle & Glass, $19.95 pa., March), features a cast of women characters facing up to death, betrayal, and entrapment.
Angolan-born author paulo da costa won the Commonwealth First Book Prize (Canada and the Caribbean) and the W.O. Mitchell City of Calgary Book Prize for his first collection, The Scent of a Lie (2002). His new collection, The Green and Purple Skin of the World (Freehand, $21.95 pa., April), contains stories about the bonds that hold us together and the forces that tear us apart.
Actress Katie Boland has appeared in more than 40 films and was named one of the Toronto International Film Festival’s rising stars in 2011. Her debut story collection is out from Brindle & Glass in April. Eat Your Heart Out ($19.95 pa.) features characters as varied as a newspaperman who encounters a kindly drifter and a teenaged autistic savant who is having an affair with his best friend’s mother.
A woman is charged with disposing of her dying father’s stash of pornography and a teenage petty criminal gets more than he bargained for in two of the stories from Peter Unwin’s latest collection. Life Without Death (Cormorant, $21 pa., May) is about characters struggling to find a sense of perspective in their messy lives. • Kelly Ward’s story “The Night Shift” won the 2008 Lush Triumphant Award for Fiction. It is among the stories collected in Keep It Beautiful (Tightrope Books, $21.95 pa., May).
Crang is back! The jazz-loving protagonist of Straight No Chaser and Blood Count returns to the mean streets of Toronto, this time to investigate a crime at the Gardiner Ceramics Museum. Biographer, newspaper columnist, and jazz critic Jack Batten’s latest series mystery, Take Five ($15.95 pa.), is due in April from Thomas Allen Publishers. • Ava Lee returns for a fifth adventure in the latest series instalment from Ian Hamilton. In The Scottish Banker of Surabaya (Anansi, $19.95 pa., Feb.), Lee investigates a ponzi scheme that involves an Indonesian bank, money laundering, and the Italian mob.
Author of the popular Russell Quant series of mysteries, Anthony Bidulka has two titles out this season. Sundowner Ubuntu (Insomniac Press, $19.95 pa., April) is a new Quant mystery set in the drug-ridden underworld of a Prairies city and the violence-plagued townships of Africa. Where the Saints Go Marching In (Insomniac, $19.95 pa., April) is the first in a new series. Adam Saint is a disaster-recovery agent who must investigate the death of a colleague in a thriller modelled on Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne novels and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.
The much beloved Flavia de Luce returns for a new adventure in Speaking from Among the Bones (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., Jan.). In the fifth instalment of Alan Bradley’s best-selling mystery series, the opening of a saint’s tomb leads to a shocking discovery that sends Flavia on another intriguing investigation. • Author of the hard-boiled Wilson novels, Mike Knowles is set to debut a new series this spring. In S.O.B. (ECW, $12.95 pa., May), P.I. Frank Sullivan sets out to help an HIV-positive woman who is convinced that the boyfriend who intentionally infected her (and their newborn daughter) is not the man she thought he was.
Welsh-Canadian author Cathy Ace follows up her debut, The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, with another classic cozy featuring Professor Cait Morgan. In The Corpse with the Golden Nose (TouchWood Editions, $14.95 pa., March), Cait must intervene to solve the suspicious death of a world-renowned vintner.
St. John’s resident Michael Crummey is set to publish his first book of poetry since 2002’s Salvage. The poems in Under the Keel (Anansi, $19.95 pa., April) run the gamut from home brewing to embarrassing interactions with babysitters to advice on how not to get laid in Newfoundland. • Billie Holliday, El Greco, Charlie Chaplin, and Dante all inform the new collection from Lorna Goodison, which reimagines Caribbean history and offers new possibilities for interpreting the region’s cultural heritage. Supplying Salt and Light (McClelland & Stewart, $18.99 pa.) appears in March. • Also from M&S is a new work of poetry from best-selling author Anne Michaels, who collaborates with portrait artist Bernice Eisenstein. Correspondences ($34.99 cl. April) will be produced in an accordion format, with Michaels’ verse on one side and Eisenstein’s portraits on the other.
The prolific Leon Rooke follows up his 2012 story collection, Wide World in Celebration and Sorrow, with a new collection of free verse poems centring on the precious, prickly figure of a woman named April. Employing his signature linguistic playfulness, Rooke’s poems examine April’s girlhood, her loves and losses, and the influence she has on the lives she touches. The April Poems (The Porcupine’s Quill, $17.95 pa.) appears in, um, April. • Another prolific veteran has a new collection out this spring. Nicole Brossard’s White Piano (Coach House, $17.95 pa., March) employs musical rhythms and shuttles freely between verse and prose. Robert Majzels and Erín Moure translate.
There is water, water everywhere in Afloat (Brick Books, $20 pa., March), the eighth collection from Toronto poet John Reibetanz. The collection’s centrepiece is a sequence about China’s Three Gorges Dam. • Phil Hall’s previous book of poetry, 2010’s Killdeer, won the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Trillium Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. He follows it up with a new work called The Small Nouns Crying Faith (BookThug, $20 pa., May). Between the book’s opening word (“verb”) and its closing word (“blurtip”), the poems investigate conventional tropes and approaches using unconventional means.
Tanis Rideout scored critical acclaim for her 2012 debut novel, Above All Things. She returns to poetry for her follow-up, a book that fictionalizes the rivalry between swimmers Marilyn Bell and Shirley Campbell. Arguments with the Lake ($17 pa.) appears in April from Wolsak and Wynn.
Nightwood Editions has a trio of books from well-respected poets on its spring roster. Tim Bowling follows up his Rogers Writers’ Trust Award–nominated novel The Tinsmith with a selection of his poetry from the past two decades. Selected Poems ($22.95 pa.) is scheduled to appear in February. • Also from Nightwood is the second collection from former Vancouver poet laureate Brad Cran. Ink on Paper ($18.95 pa., Feb.) contains poems that are alternately gritty and pristine, ironic and sincere. • Finally, Elizabeth Bachinsky returns with her sixth collection. In The Hottest Summer in Recorded History ($18.95 pa., Feb.), the B.C. poet brings her signature mix of linguistic experimentation and flair for sensual imagery to poems that straddle the line between youthfulness and maturity.
Halifax poet Sue Goyette’s fourth collection is out this spring with Gaspereau Press. Ocean ($21.95 pa., April) examines humankind’s often fraught relationship with that majestic and mysterious body of water, the Atlantic ocean. • Also from Gaspereau is the latest collection from John Terpstra. Brilliant Falls ($19.95 pa., April) contains poems with surface lightness that conceals a darker, more melancholy aspect.
A Reliquary (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, April) is the final collection from Daryl Hine, completed just before his death in August. The poems examine loss and aging, sickness and death, in a manner that is honest and forthright, but not despairing.
Q&Q’s spring preview covers books published between Jan. 1 and June 31, 2013. • All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q’s press time. • Titles that have been listed in previous previews do not appear here.
*Correction Jan. 11: In the print and an earlier online version of this story Holley Rubinsky’s name is spelled incorrectly.
Given all the political hoopla happening in Hogtown, it would have been easy to miss news that poet, playwright, activist, and critic George Elliott Clarke has been appointed Toronto’s fourth poet laureate. He takes over from Dionne Brand, who has held the position since 2009.
Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Clarke’s East Coast roots are a driver for much of his work around black identity. Clarke, who refers to his African-Canadian and Mi’qmak heritage as “Africadian,” is recognized as one of the top scholars of black-Canadian literature.
Clarke moved to Toronto in 1999, and in 2003 was named the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. He brings a shelf full of prizes to the position, including the 2001 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry for Execution Poems (Gaspereau Press). In 2008 he received Toronto’s William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations and was made an officer of the Order of Canada.
The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry has announced its judges for the 2013 Griffin Prize.
South African writer, artist, and human rights activist Breyten Breytenbach will be joined by 2011 Griffin finalist Suzanne Buffam and New York City poet Mark Doty in determining shortlists and winners in both the Canadian and international categories.
The finalists will be announced April 9 and the winner on June 13.